The design of in-vehicle data connectors is evolving to meet the need for ever-increasing questions of information from a growing number of inputs that have to be processed at high speed.
Automotive Industries (AI) asked Owen Barthelmes, Director of Engineering at Amphenol RF, to tell us more about their new product AUTOMATE™. Barthelmes: AUTOMATE™ is a new RF coaxial connector series developed by Amphenol RF and designed to meet the dense packaging and high bandwidth needs of next generation vehicle communication systems, complying with increasingly challenging automotive specifications. This new product series was driven by the introduction of autonomous vehicles which require a drastic increase in sensors in order to ensure the safety of passengers. In response, two options have been released into the market.
AI: How does Amphenol RF plan to support both industry standard options on the market today? Barthelmes: Amphenol RF has taken the unique approach to support both interfaces as the technology matures. In parallel, we are launching AUTOMATE™ Type A and Type B which are fully compatible with Rosenberger HFM® and TE MATE-AX, respectively.
AI: Which automotive trends will AUTOMATE™ support? Barthelmes: The primary trend is the adoption of systems which integrate progressively higher levels of autonomy as SAE Level 2 systems permeate deeper and then, Level 3 systems launch in more vehicles. Each increase in autonomy level requires more sensors operating at higher data bandwidths. AUTOMATE™ supports the current systems while offering headroom for growth across the autonomous roadmap.
AI: What other interconnect solutions are needed to support automotive trends? Barthelmes: We expect a continued need for traditional FAKRA, at least for the foreseeable future, based on availability and robustness. There is rapid innovation with camera modules; how they are constructed and how they connect to the vehicle. Custom RF solutions for camera interconnect modules, therefore, are becoming a necessity in emerging automotive applications. Additionally, there is a trend towards smart antenna technology which has unique interconnect challenges.
AI: Speaking of cameras, what’s driving the proliferation of cameras across the industry and what are some of the applications? Barthelmes: Cameras are the optical sensor portion of the sensor suite required for higher levels of autonomy. Currently, most cameras are used for vision systems and basic safety features such as parking assistance. However, future autonomous systems will have an increased need for more visual information at higher resolutions. Along with that is the addition of driver facing cameras, which will be pivotal to increased safety protocols in next generation of vehicles.
AI: Does Amphenol RF support the increased need for cameras with high bandwidth? Barthelmes: Amphenol is a leader in RF interconnect for camera modules, which must be connected to the coaxial lines in the vehicle to transmit their data. The most common camera module configuration combines a front housing with optics to a rear housing with a FARKA connector directly integrated to mate to the vehicle harness. Amphenol has developed unique technology to integrate the FAKRA into the housing with exceptional environmental robustness and sealing. Our innovations ensure reliability at the critical transition point from the connector housing to the PCB with the camera sensor and electronics. This connection point requires robust contact integrity, high RF shielding and mechanical flexibility to facilitate the blind mate assembly of the back housing as well as the optical alignment and PCB position. The automotive camera back is an excellent showcase of Amphenol technology including RF design, rapid development schedules and efficient manufacturing.
AI: Do you expect camera connections to migrate from FAKRA to Mini-FAKRA eventually? Barthelmes: Most cameras require only one RF line and, in those cases, there is not a significant size benefit to moving to a single Mini-FAKRA. The real benefit comes with the higher frequency and therefore data bandwidth capability of Mini-FAKRA. Many of the current camera systems use digital protocols with only 1.5 or 3 Gbps data rates. This can easily be handled by FAKRA connectors which can operate up to 6 GHz. As future cameras are designed and deployed with a requirement for higher data rates due to high resolutions like 4K or stereo image streams, there will be a need for the connectors and cable to support greater than 6 GHz. Mini- FAKRA is an ideal solution for these specific applications.
AI: Are you ready to support the next generation technology (V2X, 5G, etc.)? Barthelmes: The other significant growth area driven by the development of autonomous vehicles is data communication: vehicle to vehicle and vehicle to infrastructure.
Autonomous capability requires vast and comprehensive information to enable robust AI decisions. The cameras and other sensors will be supplemented by large streams of data from wireless sources. Real time information from other vehicles and infrastructure will supply the AI module with the latest critical information from nearby 5G devices and the cloud. The vehicle accesses these data streams with multiple antennas either dispersed or consolidated into smart antennas.
AI: You mentioned antennas. What are the challenges with smart antennas and do you offer other products to support this application? Barthelmes: Smart antennas consolidate all communication function into one combined unit that includes an array of antennas to support multiple technologies and frequency bands. The unit includes an integrated Electronic Control Unit to process data at the antenna location. Most antennas today only transmit and receive signals which are carried throughout the vehicle over coaxial cable to other control units to process the information. Smart antennas reduce the amount of cabling in the vehicle, further reducing cost and weight, but add a complexity in connecting the antenna signals to the processing boards. Amphenol offers unique proven solutions for this critical connection point utilizing modular HD-EFI connectors borrowed from the wireless market. This solution offers high density, low loss, and mechanical robustness to meet changing environments while utilizing cost effect and scalable manufacturing processes.
AI: What are the benefits of Amphenol RF products (Gen 4, AUTOMATE™) to automated assembly? Barthelmes: Amphenol’s automotive connector products are optimized for automated assembly. One of the major cost items in a coaxial cable harness is the termination process of the connector to cable. The latest generation Amphenol cable connectors are designed specifically for automation to minimize termination costs while ensuring the highest quality and consistently.
AI: What’s next for Amphenol RF? Barthelmes: Over the next couple of years we will be rolling out full product lines for Gen 4 FAKRA, AUTOMATE™ and Camera Backs to match the integration and need for these technologies in production vehicles. Amphenol RF will continue to leverage our global engineering team and their extensive experience developing innovative custom solutions within the automotive sphere and beyond.